US-led coalition: 6 Islamic State operatives plotted against Saudi Arabia, Sweden and US

The US-led coalition announced on July 24 that at least six Islamic State operatives who had plotted terrorist attacks abroad have been killed in airstrikes since April. The jihadists were allegedly planning attacks in Saudi Arabia and Sweden, as well as against the US and American interests.

Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), which oversees the war effort against the so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, did not say where the airstrikes were conducted. In the past, CJTF-OIR has targeted specific Islamic State figures throughout Iraq and Syria.

Since early 2017, the US and its allies have also honed in on the group’s senior leadership cadres in eastern Syria, especially near the city of Mayadin in the province of Deir Ezzor. Some of those killed included jihadists who were thought to be planning “external operations,” that is, attacks outside of their strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

CJTF-OIR names the six Islamic State operatives killed since late April, but provides few details concerning their activities.

On Apr. 24, Munawwar al-Mutayari was killed in a “kinetic strike.” The US-led coalition says al-Mutayari was a “Syrian-based” member of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organization and was “planning external attacks to be carried out in Saudi Arabia.”

Earlier this month, the Islamic State claimed, via its An Naba newsletter, a raid on a security checkpoint inside the kingdom. At least two people were killed.

The Islamic State has long operated in Saudi Arabia. In Nov. 2014, Baghdadi announced that he had accepted an oath of allegiance from unnamed jihadists inside the country. Baghdadi declared that one of his group’s “provinces” would operate there and its men have conducted sporadic attacks since then.

Senior Islamic State officials, including Baghdadi, have also repeatedly called on their followers to strike inside the kingdom.

On June 2, a Belgian foreign fighter named Soufiane Makouh was killed in a separate strike. CJTF-OIR says that Makouh “came to Syria to plan attacks against the US and its interests,” but does not indicate if his plotting was active.

Three additional airstrikes were carried out between June 12 and June 26. The US and its allies concluded that at least four jihadists tied to plotting inside Sweden were killed.

The first, identified as a man known as “Simak,” was an Islamic State “intelligence official linked to a terror cell plotting attacks in Sweden.” According to CJTF-OIR, two jihadists known as Abu Awf and Abu-Quddamah were “directly associated with the Sweden attack plot” and “were killed on June 24.” The fourth member of the cell, Sharif al-Ragab, “was killed June 26.”

It is not surprising that the Islamic State would have a cell devoted to planning operations inside Sweden. In Apr. 2017, an Uzbek named Rakhmat Akilov hijacked a truck and drove it into pedestrians in Stockholm. The attack mirrored other operations carried out by the jihadists, including the Dec. 2016 Berlin truck assault. Moreover, Uzbek officials claimed that Akilov had been recruited by Baghdadi’s men.

CJTF-OIR’s press release indicates that the Islamic State likely maintains a degree of command and control over its “external operations.” But these plans are also regularly disrupted by the US and its allies.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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